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Sidney Crosby, Penguin for life

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

THERE ARE GREAT ATHLETES, and there are great athletes uniquely associated with one setting.

That matters to some.

We’ve been blessed in Pittsburgh to have had Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and, yes, our greatest, Mario Lemieux, spend their entire careers here. There’s something special when that happens, here or anywhere. That person is linked forever with the city, the franchise, the people. That person gets a retired number, even a statue.

Welcome to the club, Sidney Crosby.

There never should have been a doubt.

With the news today that Crosby will sign a 12-year, $104.4 million contract that essentially will keep the Penguins’ captain here for life, the city has added another to that list. Moreover, he’s done so while giving up money in the process.

I prefer to reserve the word “sacrifice” for real sacrifice, not when a player gives up some cash on a nine-figure contract. But it shouldn’t be underplayed why Crosby gave up that cash and why other athletes — most recently Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder in baseball, but going back to Wayne Gretzky — will leave places they are loved for a few more bucks elsewhere. For some, the money just isn’t ever enough. But for some it is. Look in hockey at Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Martin Brodeur, Jarome Iginla and others, and you’ll know why Shane Doan faces such a tough call this weekend in whether he’ll finally leave the Phoenix/Winnipeg franchise.

Moreover, let’s remember that Crosby’s clear motivation, aside from staying, is that he wants management to be able to surround him with other elite players to better his chances of winning another Cup. The Kid’s won one already, but he wants another. Or several.

Is it a risk?

Sure. Crosby’s missed months at a time with a severe concussion. His next hit could be his last. Even if the Penguins insure the contract heavily — and be certain they have — it’s still a shaky proposition to invest about half the franchise’s total value in that type of player.

But the way I’ve seen it all along, this was something the Penguins never should have hesitated to do. The best player in the world wants to stay here and do everything in his power, including financial concessions, to win a Cup. Good luck putting a price tag on that.

Now, about that winger …

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